Welcome to the “double lives” of Britain’s weekly commuters who divide their time between work in the UK and a home abroad.
So what’s the reality of having the best of both worlds?
Fly from south-west France
For Foster, 49, the six-hour commute most weeks is more than worth it, because she gets to focus fully on her job or spend quality time with her family, without trying to juggle both seven days a week.
“I’m able to put in longer hours during the week because I don’t have to rush back to my family, and when I’m back in France at weekends, I completely slow down and I’m 100 per cent a mother,” says Foster, who has two teenage daughters.
She and her husband, Will, 44, fell in love with the Haute-Garonne region of the Midi-Pyrénées in south-west France while on holiday six years ago. They hadn’t been looking to move abroad but couldn’t resist a handsome 15th-century, 12-bedroom chateau in the tiny village of Beauville.
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Will, a landscape gardener, renovated the chateau and three of the outbuildings, which are now run as gîtes. “I am so lucky that I can enjoy a lovely rural life – we have 13 sheep, three donkeys, hens and a dog – before rushing back to the mad fashion world in London.”
And she’s made some firm friends along the way. “Us easyJet regulars even had a Christmas lunch in Mayfair last winter,” she says.
Foster suggests that this style of commuting is far less stressful – and less expensive than you would expect.
“When I lived in Sussex, I was commuting four hours a day, paying annual car park fees and an extortionate season ticket. I was always clock-watching. Door-to-door between my flat in Pimlico and the chateau takes three-and-a-half hours and my flights work out cheaper as I can book them in advance, often €29 (£20). EasyJet is trialling a new system that enables you to change your flights for free, which would make sudden changes in my work schedule even easier to manage.”
Karen Foster with her daughters in her chateaux in France
From Malta to Mayfair
For another weekly commuter, Simon Barnes, being a regular with Air Malta earns the sort of last-minute flexibility that makes his split life possible. The 50-year-old listing consultant arrives at Heathrow most Monday mornings – 40 minutes from his office in Mayfair – after leaving his wife at their rural house in Lija, central Malta. Until Thursday he lives at his flat in St John’s Wood, north-west London.
Their children are now teenagers at boarding school in Sussex, but attitudes to remote working have changed since he started doing it 10 years ago. “Back then, people’s perception of me not being in London all the time didn’t help my business,” says Barnes, who sources and sells homes.
“But I have a London phone number and I make a special effort to always be where I need to be, so people don’t blame it on me for living in a different country. There are three flights a day between Malta and Heathrow, so I can always get back to London the following day.”
He relishes six hours of uninterrupted flight-time to clear his emails each week, and loves the slow pace of life and the safety and security Malta offers. Plus, of course, the climate and lifestyle – Barnes keeps a boat in Grand Harbour marina in Vittoriosa that they use most weekends. But does his meticulous planning ever go awry?
“Not really, apart from the time we were sailing back from Sicily on Sunday evening when we hit a hurricane, so I almost missed a meeting in London.”
The Grand Harbour marina in Vittoriosa in Malta
Of course, some people hate flying and since it started running 21 years ago, Eurostar has provided arguably the most popular option for frequent commuters between the UK and France.
This summer it launched a new service direct from London to Marseille (6 hr 27 min) and David Kampfner, of agent Leggett Immobilier on the Côte d’Azur, has buyers who are looking for homes within a Eurostar “catchment area” stretching as far as Montpellier. “Some people prefer taking the train because they can work more easily, while others like the lack of stress that travelling through airports – and their security measures – can entail,” he says.
Louise Brody, a freelance designer who is married to a French architect, travels between Paris and London. They live in an atelier in Montparnasse.
“I haven’t taken the plane since I moved here because taking the train is so easy – I live on the right Metro line for the Gare du Nord, so can be there in 20 minutes,” she says. “I love being able to pick and choose work in both cities. I miss the energy of London when in Paris, yet find it an exhausting place to live, so love returning home to the much slower pace of Paris.”
She stays with her sister in London and owns a second home in Touraine, in the Loire, an extra hour by train from Paris.
“I know people who commute to the UK from there, too. The lifestyle makes it worth it.”
Daily from Majorca
If weekly commuting doesn’t seem exhausting enough, how about daily commutes from Majorca? For television producer Stephen Leahy, day trips to London for meetings and production rehearsals are “totally practical” and enable him to write from home – a stunning villa in the fishing village of Porto Cristo. He can be at Gatwick for 11am, into London for lunch, then back on the 6.30 or 8pm flight to Palma. He does this once a week and maximises the “golden time”, completing a day’s work on his plane journeys. Flights can cost as little as £15 in winter.
“I love living in Majorca, and Palma is a great airport hub from which to fly to Germany, Sweden or Ireland, which I often have to do for work, too,” says Leahy, 66. “I used to face more disruptions commuting into London when I lived in Oxted [Surrey] or Brighton. Majorca is a lovely, happy place to live, and I adore the outside lifestyle. The only problem is persuading house guests that I’m working when I’m here, not on holiday – and I do face a bit of jealously from colleagues in the UK. I make a point of responding instantly to any emails.”
Leahy and his partner, Hans, are downsizing. Their villa, which is for sale, is next door to tennis champion Rafa Nadal’s family home. In fact, R
afa has been around for poker parties. If only the walls could talk …
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